My extended Paternity Leaves

Our son just turned ONE year! Only now I realise that I have been on an extended paternity leave for the last one year 🙂 Both by choice and necessity, I’ve been a hands-on father with daily child-care like changing diapers & clothes, feeding, cleaning potty, cooking baby food, giving baths, helping put the baby back to sleep in the wee hours of morning etc.

At our son’s 1st birthday

My role models were the Indian fathers in my U.S friends circle who would do it as a matter of routine because there was no nanny or cook to help beyond the usual 6-month stint by each grandmother. Since we had our baby late in our 30s, our elderly mothers could assist only till our kid turned 6 months old. We had a pretty rough luck finding a cook and nanny and the ones we did find would quit after just a month or so throwing our newborn-household into chaos until we found the next one. So I was forced to scale down my work and get more involved in household and baby care given the unreliability of hired help.

Sugandha has had exactly 1 full night of uninterrupted sleep since Kabir was born a year back. I sleep in the same room as the baby so my sleep also gets disturbed except I don’t have to spend 20-30 mins every 2 hours breast-feeding the baby throughout the night.

My Daily Routine as a Father of a one-year-old

I wake up at 5/6am to take the baby, then when Sugandha took over around 8/9AM I would do some work , eat breakfast, then sleep at 10 AM for an hour, then resume work from 11 till late afternoon, then take a late afternoon nap to get the energy needed to handle the baby’s evening routine of play, dinner and feeding routine then do some more work after baby falls asleep at night.

Our son a few hours old

Until the time our son was born, I never fully appreciated the flexible work hours & remote work afforded by my line of work – software programming. I’m now deeply grateful for this unexpected positive side-effect of our current lifestyle.

Work has taken a back seat

Has my business suffered as a result of my reduced productivity & attention? yes. very much 🙁 Could I have made more money if I was working regular hours? absolutely! But like other fathers, I am acutely aware of time flying fast with our son. Some days I want him to be in college already so we can go back to the couple-life we had without sleep deprivation. Other days I want time to slow down so I can be present with my son in this once-in-a-lifetime phase.

The cycle of- Feed, Potty, Clean, Repeat…

Even with extended Maternity Leave, it does not seem fair to burden the mother with all the child-care work at home. Even the short time I help out at home it tires me out physically and mentally. No one talks about the marriage being strained by unending child-care duties during the day and sleep-deprivation at night for the first 2 years. MoneyMustache kind of talked about it. Maybe I was not paying attention. So be forewarned 🙂

We currently have a regular cook and nanny, our son is eating solid food and has a predictable daytime schedule. Nighttime is still sleep-deprived. I’m ramping up at work. Our conflicts over who does how much child-care work have gone way down as a result of our current support system. Things seem to be getting to a new normal. Only time will tell.

(un)Support(ive) System?

I realise that I’m one of the lucky fathers to have the flexibility to spend time with my newborn son during the daytime on weekdays. One of my friends confessed how the early years as a father was all one big blur and regretted not spending more time with his children when he was away at work morning till night. My other friend only gets to spend time with his kids in the morning before school and on Sundays as he usually comes back from work late after the kids have already slept. Typically the child-care burden falls entirely on the mother while the financial burden falls entirely on the father.

I used to visit my sister’s kids in California for the holidays while I was still working in the U.S. I was amazed to see parents working in tech companies show up for their children’s school play late on a “weekday” afternoon. They would all show up with camcorder in hand to record their children singing or acting. After the play they would take the kids home, finish the evening homework routine with early dinner at 7pm or so. Then login back at night to resume work till midnight. They would wake up late the next morning while the other parent dropped off the kid at school. Either they would head to work late in the morning or decide to work from home itself. My brother-in-law explained that as long as the work got done no one cared how or when you got the work done. This utopia was only in the Silicon Valley tech cluster in California. When I flew back after the holidays to the East Coast (New York/New Jersey) at my traditional company, work hours were non-negotiable and you had to show up in ironed formals at 9AM whether or not you were up from 3am to 5am on pager duty fixing a production problem. Leaving earlier than 6pm or 7pm was bad for optics even if you were going to login back at night to make up. Even tech startups in the East Coast would have a similar culture as their corporate counter-parts as opposed to the family-friendly timings of Silicon Valley,California on the West Coast

While everyone wants you to have kids, you are pretty much on your own when you have one:-)

Having a kid has made me realise just how unsupportive society is in general to new parents contrary to the public rhetoric glorifying parenthood. From hired help to the workplace, from close family to friends … you are on your own if you have a kid. If it is this difficult for the modern Indian working father, I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for the modern Indian working mother. All this lack of support has kind of put the brakes on us having more than one kid for now.

It got me wondering how parents with full-time jobs manage their parental duties. Especially where both husband and wife are working and don’t have grandparents nearby on top of unreliable hired help. It must be pretty brutal!

Excerpt from “Working Fathers need Balance too” that resonated with me:

There’s already really a gender war going on among men, between older men and younger men.

Because if you look the millennials, who are coming up, they often have very different ideas of what it means to be a man to be reckoned with. These men have not only a different attitude towards their partner, but they also have a different attitude towards fatherhood.

The ideal of the nurturing father has really gained steam and it’s shifted notions of fatherhood in very profound ways. Certainly when I was growing up, or even 20 years ago, being a really committed father was maybe showing up at a game, a performance, a play, not taking the kid to the 17 rehearsals that led up to the play.

But these younger guys feel that being a good father involves, at some level, being involved in their daily activities. And that ideal of fatherhood is inconsistent with the work devotion ideal.

The other thing, I think, that the younger men are reacting to is of course the economy no longer gives people the same deal as it did. We’ve seen massive, massive layoffs among very high-status white-collar workers, and that has also, I think, changed attitudes profoundly. And why should I completely sacrifice everything for a job that may ultimately treat me as disposable?

Tips for future parents who wish to take an extended break from work after child-birth:

Sugandha found a shocking research showing that the first 2 years of a child’s development pretty much determine their emotional, mental and physical well-being & success in adulthood. Knowing this I would imagine most modern parents would wish to be more present in the first 2 years to lay this crucial foundation. If you wish to spend more time together as a family during the early years after child-birth, the hard truth is full-time work as an employee is incompatible with early parenthood. So if family-friendly work is not available then the only option is to create the opportunity yourself.

My suggestions below might sound impractical but sometimes life situations like job loss or health issues force your hand into taking an extended break from work to take care of your child. Then you might wish you had considered these options instead of relying on just Maternity Leave or simply assuming both of you would be employed.

Practice living on one person’s salary in the years leading up to the pregnancy

This is a good family-planning practice whether you plan to quit work or not after a baby. I personally know a family where the mother took maternity leave and soon after, the father lost his job for no fault of his due to the recession and could not find another job for more than a year with the recession in full swing. Say you are planning to have a baby after 2 years. Practice living on one person’s salary for 2 years before the pregnancy using the lower salary. Save the bigger salary towards your living expenses post-pregnancy. This way if the mother wants to extend her maternity leave for health reasons or if she wants to explore a different career path that is more family-friendly she can do so. Only after a baby arrives can you as a family assess the situation and decide whether returning to the same job post-maternity leave makes sense.

Ideally: Aim for financial independence by the time you have a child.

Fact is you cannot get any office work done during the first year of the child if you are pitching in meaningfully with child-care. Since high-earning couples these days are having kids late any way when they are already 30+ they have a greater chance of becoming financially independent by the time they have a baby. Is 26 weeks of Maternity Leave not enough you ask? Answer: Financial independence is ideally suited for modern parenting with two involved parents because “It takes 20 years, not 12 weeks, to raise a child”

Next best option: scale down work to part-time

Unless you are fully financially independent you should never quit working. Part-time yes but quitting no! Working part-time helps you keep your skills sharp, bringing in money and you can easily re-join the full-time workforce later when your kid is slightly grown up. Even part-time work will not be possible for new mothers with a breastfeeding schedule & sleep deprivation. But new fathers can figure out ways to work part-time that does not require regular hours. If you can negotiate such an arrangement at your current workplace then great otherwise there are always freelancing remote-work options on websites like Upwork.com/JobsForHer.com or consulting work in your field.

Hire a cook and nanny during pregnancy itself don’t rely on your parents

Truth is you can tell the cook to customize baby food or the nanny to assist you in activities to aid the child’s development. Your parents most likely will not understand your perspective as they are set in their ways leading to a conflict that you don’t need on top of a screaming baby. Unlike the West, we have the labour advantage in India to hire cooks and nannies at a reasonable cost. The tradeoff is simply – the time you spend doing household work is the time you don’t spend with your baby or the time you could have rested to make up for the energy spent with your baby.

Don’t start any new venture along with having a child

Say you’ve taken maternity leave towards the tail-end of the pregnancy and suddenly it looks like you have a lot of time on your hands. You think: Why don’t I start a new venture like selling pregnancy-related stuff online or a mommy blog etc. Bad Idea! This is only the calm before the storm. All hell breaks loose from the day your child is born. You will only be adding another source of stress by starting something brand new at the same time as having a child in your life. We had trouble writing just one blog post per month that we had promised our readers. This is the first post we are writing after a gap of 4 months. If writing one blog post a month is difficult with a baby you can imagine how difficult it would be to run a new business with a baby screaming for your attention all the time.

But you can start a new venture a few years in advance

Being self-employed is an ideal situation for a new parent because you have flexibility of hours if not the work-load. But you have to start this venture on the side while you are still at your day-job a few years before you expect to have a child. This way you can bring the venture to a state where it actually meets your expenses by the time your kid is on the way. Plus delegating responsibility to hired employees and automation technology will go a long way to freeing up your time to be a more present parent. My software venture unintentionally started about 6 years back has come very handy for parenthood. It has also allowed Sugandha more than a year of self-funded Maternity Leave where she could breast-feed the baby for a full year and going.

Conclusion:

I don’t think that society, workplace and government policy will become more supportive of new parents in the foreseeable future. But we can make changes to our own life with the help of “Savings and Skills” to bend an unsupportive ecosystem to our parenting needs even if temporarily. It is possible with some foresight and planning to build a life where work and family are not in conflict with each other all the time. Planning for parenthood is an ideal life stage to contemplate how healthy your work-life balance looks to you. Yes, you will be leaving a lot of money on the career table when you make alternative lifestyle decisions. But in the end, it is your choice and your family.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for writing this. Society needs more positive male role models like yourself – people who are actively redefining the role of a dad today. I am childfree but have serious respect for people like you who put in the effort to bring up good future citizens.

    I liked that you touched on the point that there are huge societal/structural issues in the way worklife is defined in India today. I do feel that Indian corporate culture is tailored by 50 year old uncles! They are made to allow the male earner with stay-at-home wife to succeed, and punish everyone else, male or female. Hope things change soon.

    • My guess is change is coming soon because the daughters of the “50 year old uncles” are joining the workforce right about now 🙂

Leave a Reply